In the Korean War, an American tank force met an opposing Chinese force of Russian built tanks.

The tanks were pretty equally matched in technology.

In the dense countryside they ended up closer to each other than they would have liked.

Too close to use their sophisticated gunsights.

Remember, once you’re inside a tank, you’re sealed in.

That’s the whole point of a tank.

There are no openings for bullets to get in.

The driver just has a tiny protected viewing slit.

The commander only has a periscope in the turret.

The gunner has his sophisticated gunsight.

And that’s all the vision you’ve got from inside the tank.

So, if you can’t use the gunsight, how can you fire the gun?

The American and Chinese tank forces tried to manoeuvre for an opportunity.

But neither side could fire, because they couldn’t use their gunsights.

Then one American gunner figured out an opening he could look through.

So blindingly obvious no one else even thought of it.

So primitive it seemed laughable.

He popped open the breech of the gun and looked down the inside of the barrel.

Seen from the inside it’s just a big, long tube.

And whatever’s at the end of it is what the barrel is pointing at.

He moved the turret until he could see a Chinese tank at the end of it.

Then he rammed in a shell, slammed the breech shut, and fired.

And the Chinese tank disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Then he opened up the breech, ejected the shell casing, and sighted down the inside of the barrel again.

Again he turned it until he could see another tank at the end of it.

Rammed in a shell and repeated the procedure.

And he started going round the battlefield destroying Chinese tanks.

The Chinese meanwhile couldn’t understand what sophisticated gunsights this American tank must have.

It was clearly something their Russian built tanks didn’t have.

So the Chinese tanks retreated with the American tank destroying them as they went.

What the Chinese didn’t realise was that at any time they could have done exactly the same thing as the American tank.

It wasn’t sophisticated technology, it was the most primitive there is.

Any gun in the world could be sighted the same way.

And that was the problem.

Everyone else had been trained to use the sophisticated gunsights.

Which involved a lot of complicated technology.

Which involved a great deal of thought and concentration.

They were never trained to think.

They were trained solely to learn.

Not to think.

So the Chinese tank crews had a kind of mental paralysis.

They did what all of us do when we want to be good at something.

Just like them, we start learning and stop thinking.

We’re so desperate to learn the sophisticated parts of the job, we ignore the basics.

We memorise ever case study we can get hold of.

We learn every bit of jargon we can find.

We read up on every theory that anyone’s ever printed.

We’ve got numbers and processes coming out of ears.

But what happens when the answers we’ve learned don’t work?

When the situation isn’t covered by our learning?

Can we get upstream of all that sophisticated learning?

Can we come up with something basic and primitive and completely effective?

Something no one else would have thought of.

Can we get creative like the American tank gunner?


What happens if we actually have to think?